This article is taken from Issue 4 of the AIM Journal, first published in July 2008. This, and other issues are available here to download for free.
Illegal downloaders have long been regarded with suspicion by the music industry. However, they can help raise the worldwide profile of emerging artists.
I remember when the digital space started to have a profound effect on our company.
It was 2004 and we'd just released what was set to be one of the biggest Brit -Asian singles for years, 'Sohniye' by Juggy D, a contemporary blend of eastern flavas and western hip-hop.
To heat the record up, we gave it to radio and club DJs, who completely battered the tune for nine months. We never actually released the record at that time because we didn't have an album ready.
We'd never made an album before. Our previous expertise working with artists like Mis Teeq was producing records and making them hot commodities for radio and club DJs.
Having still not sold a single copy of 'Sohniye', we soon found ourselves receiving offers for Juggy D to perform in the US, India, Dubai, the Far East, Australia and beyond. We were confused.
Why were people willing to fly our artist, all expenses paid, out for a show? Seeing 10,000 people sing along to your artist's records on a gig on the beach in Dubai is pretty mental, especially when you haven't sold one CD in that region.
The reason was we had created value in the artist. This was confirmed by people downloading (some say stealing) his tunes. Many people would be shaking their heads at this point. But as a small company with limited cashflow and an open mind, we saw it as a blessing.
We had, in effect, found ourselves an international street team to market our music. We didn't see these people as stealing our music but sampling it. They had no other access to the music and they got it by any means they could.
That was the beginning of our label being dubbed by The Guardian as 'the Def Jam of the Brit-Asian scene'.
Every tune we put out was a monster. Juggy's album was one of the 20 highest selling albums in HMV the week of its release. Our other artists at the time - Jay Sean, Rishi Rich, Veronica and Mentor - all became huge international stars within this scene, performing in over 100 cities on four continents.
Our main artist Jay Sean recently went in at number six in the UK charts. He gets over 5m hits on YouTube for each of his videos - ten times more than so -called successful pop artists.
When digital came, all indies were thinking they'd make a fortune now they didn't have to rely on HMV to rack their records. When they got their tunes up online and were hit with their first digital payments, they found it wasn't necessarily the oasis in the middle of the desert.
The main issue is access to the music. The easier the punter can access it, the more downloads will be sold. Our music wasn't available in most territories, so people did what they could to get hold of it. Create value in music by creating a buzz for it. Make it available, accessible and correctly priced and people will buy it.
You will always get file-sharers and thieves, but that is par for the course. Technology is holding back huge record sales at the moment but it's changing.
That's when independent labels will really benefit. When people have the ability to hear music and download the track immediately to their phone, computer or MP3 player without it costing a fortune, you'll be laughing. For indies, digital media means there's never been a better time to be in the music business.
Billy Grant is the Joint MD of 2Point9 Records and Jayded Records. He is also a director of AIM.
Reproduced with permission from New Media Age, www.nma.co.uk
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